Hibernian 0 Rangers 1
Kyle Lafferty was the unlikely hero as Rangers secured their 53rd Scottish title with victory over Hibernian this afternoon.
Celtic’s win over Dundee United earlier in the day meant there would be no celebrations before kick-off at Easter Road with the defending champions under pressure to deliver the result that would seal the silverware.
And, despite what has been another lacklustre season from Lafferty, he grabbed his third goal in four games to ensure the trophy will remain at Ibrox.
The last time Rangers clinched the title at this venue was in May 2005 when Celtic’s shock collapse against Motherwell saw their bitter rivals defy the odds to triumph on the final day.
This time around, there were three games to spare for Walter Smith’s men.
There were a couple of surprises on the Rangers team-sheet. The visitors were without Madjid Bougherra for the clash, with Lee McCulloch moving back to central defence and Maurice Edu drafted into the side in midfield.
Top scorer Kris Boyd started on the bench, with Steven Naismith in the starting line-up and Kenny Miller and Lafferty the preferred front pairing.
Hibs made three changes from last week’s defeat against Celtic. Graeme Smith replaced Graham Stack between the sticks and Chris Hogg and Patrick Cregg both returned from injury, with Sol Bamba suspended and Colin Nish on the bench.
Rangers tried to exert some early pressure in what was a scrappy opening spell when Steven Davis whipped a cross into the box from the right which was met by Edu in front of goal only for the American to nod wide.
At the other end, Hibs could have made more of a free-kick 30 yards out which John Rankin blazed well over, with Allan McGregor untroubled in the Rangers goal.
Miller then squandered the chance to open the scoring when he hooked over the crossbar from 10 yards but Rangers were celebrating with 17 minutes gone.
Miller lofted the ball into the path of Lafferty, who shrugged off Hogg, before nodding down and sending an angled drive into the back of the net.
The goal briefly sparked trouble in the crowd when Rangers fans dotted around the home sections of the stand celebrated the opener but the situation was quickly resolved by police and stewards.
Hibs tried to hit back quickly and McGregor was called into action to block a ferocious shot from distance from Derek Riordan.
Rangers could have added to their lead when Kevin Thomson picked out David Weir from a free-kick a couple of yards in front of the corner flag and he nodded on for Edu who directed his header onto the roof of the net.
The travelling fans were in fine voice by now but Hibs were keen to spoil the party and were not too far away when Paul Hanlon fizzed a header across goal from Rankin’s corner.
Hogg appeared to have suffered a recurrence of his back problem and was replaced by Steven Thicot at the break as Hibs were forced to make their first change of the day.
The home side then squandered a great chance to haul themselves level when Rankin set up David Wotherspoon and the youngster unleashed a powerful effort that whistled just over as Rangers breathed a sigh of relief.
Hibs were determined to force themselves back into the match and Cregg was withdrawn for Nish, before home fans were unsuccessful in their demands for a penalty when Riordan went to ground under pressure from Steven Whittaker.
Rangers needed a second goal to help ease the tension but Smith did well to block a firm, low shot from Naismith.
With 15 minutes to go, Miller was withdrawn from the action and replaced by Nacho Novo, who netted the only goal of the game when Rangers last won the title at Easter Road five years ago.
Seconds later, McGregor was called into action to pull off an impressive save and push Riordan’s volley past his left-hand post as the Ibrox side held onto their narrow lead.
Nish had the ball in the back of the net with six minutes to go but was penalised for a foul on McCulloch as Rangers held on for the win – and the title.